A New Politics of Uncertainty: Towards Convivial Development in Africa

  • Published 17/02/22

Book chapter in African Futures (pp. 101-110).

Africa continues to face multiple uncertainties – climate chaos, food insecurity, migration flows, economic volatility, conflict, epidemic disease outbreaks, fragile governance and more. Indeed, it is these issues that dominate popular academic and media coverage of Africa. It’s all doom and gloom, disaster and catastrophe. The solution, so the narrative goes, is economic and governance ‘reform’, aiming to ‘stabilize’ economies and societies and so control uncertainty. Such interventions are, in turn, combined with ‘emergency’ humanitarian interventions to deal with the worst. Aid and investment packages therefore aim to control, to manage uncertainties, to reinstate a stable status quo, while emergency responses override normal routines, imposing an often securitized solution, blotting out local initiative and agency.

In this short essay, the author asks if there are alternatives to this dominant approach to aid and development in Africa that foster what he calls ‘convivial development’, one that fulsomely embraces uncertainty, ambiguity and even ignorance. Following Ivan Illich (1973), the author takes convivial development to mean an approach that engages with context, facilitates inclusion of multiple knowledges and skills, fosters a caring approach to people and environments centred on social justice and, as a result, necessarily embraces complexity and uncertainty.

The author makes the case that, in many respects, Africa is ahead of the game in constructing such alternatives from the margins, and that the Global North, also confronting the multiple uncertainties of a turbulent world – most recently and dramatically the COVID-19 pandemic – should start learning from Africa, reversing the flow of development thinking and practice.

Read this chapter